Gen Y, the demographic group generally considered to be those born somewhere between 1977 and 2000, is a group that marketers pay a lot of attention to.

They’re the multi-platform generation, consuming media on a variety of devices (including mobile phones). They’re also said to be fickle and hard to keep engaged. But above all else, they’re elusive.

Since they’re less likely than their older siblings and parents to be consuming media through traditional channels, marketers have increasingly followed them into the channels of their choice.

Online, this means social networks.

But according to a study conducted by the Participatory Marketing Network (PMN), going where Gen Y is and actually marketing to Gen Y effectively are two very different things.

A panel of 220 Gen Y’ers aged 18-24 were asked about their interactions with brands and advertising on social networks. The results highlight the challenges that marketers have reaching this elusive demographic:

  • Of the panel, 62% had visited a brand or fan page on a social network. Only 48% have joined.
  • 74% of the panel members stated that they rarely click on ad on social networks, even though 84% said they notice them. 36% say that they never click on these ads.
  • Only 19% felt that the ads they’ve seen on social networks were relevant.

Interestingly, 51% of the panel members said that they’d prefer a separate social network for their brand relationships. I take this with a grain of salt given how unsuccessful many brand-built social networks have been.

When it comes to why these Gen Y members chose to interact with a brand on a social network, the reasons were:

  • Get news or product updates” (67%).
  • View promotions” (64%).
  • View or download music or videos” (41%).
  • Submit opinions” (36%).
  • Connect with other customers” (33%).

This is very interesting to me since the clear winners (“Get news or product updates” and “View promotions“) indicate that Gen Y’ers see brand interaction on social networks as being primarily informational and transactional, not social. Which one might take to mean that focusing too much on ‘engagement‘ could actually, contrary to popular belief, be a mistake.

Is it possible that when it comes to brands, social networks are an information delivery platform, not an engagement platform?

PMN’s research seems to hint at that and is worth of follow-up study.